Eight years ago, a surprise hit film came out of nowhere to wow viewers with its unique found-footage style adaptation of the classic monster movie genre.
The film, “Cloverfield,” had a grandiose, epic feeling that pervaded the movie from start to finish, while new release “10 Cloverfield Lane” – dubbed a “blood relative” to the 2008 monster movie by producer J.J. Abrams – couldn’t be farther from its spiritual sibling.
Confined to small, terror-inducing spaces deep underground, “10 Cloverfield Lane” is a cinematic master course in paranoia, evoking the best elements of a “Twilight Zone” episode and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” at the thriller’s high points.
Indie darling Mary Elizabeth Winstead stars as Michelle, a woman who awakes from a car accident chained to a wall in an unknown location. Her captor Howard, played by a mesmerizing John Goodman, believes he has saved her from the impending apocalypse by hiding in an emergency bunker outside his rural farm house.
What ensues is about 80 minutes of a scintillating dramatic thriller with Michelle and fellow captive Emmet attempt to figure out whether Howard is friend or foe and more importantly, whether or not the world is ending.
It’s important for viewers to know as little as possible heading into “10 Cloverfield Lane” and watching 2008’s “Cloverfield” doesn’t affect the viewing experience either way. The two films, aside from name alone, are polar opposites visually and structurally, with the new “Cloverfield” incarnation ultimately being a much better film overall.
A mainstay on the indie film circuit, “10 Cloverfield Lane” could represent a breakout moment for Winstead, whose Michelle is incredibly easy to get behind as a viewer. These seemingly generic “damsel in distress” roles can be easily overplayed and become caricatures, but Winstead effortlessly provides Michelle with a level of authenticity not typically found in either the thriller or horror genres that “10 Cloverfield Lane” toes the line between.
While not on the same level as Brie Larson’s more showy Oscar-winning performance as a woman in captivity in last year’s “Room,” Winstead gives the film a proper balance and keeps “10 Cloverfield Lane” from being too much about Goodman’s stellar supporting work or the film’s looming (and largely disappointing) end.
Annual award shows typically never recognize quality cinematic work in psychological thrillers and despite a nomination-worthy supporting performance, Goodman won’t get the recognition he deserves as Howard. The veteran character actor layers Howard with equally convincing moments viewers will believe he is either sinner or saint, Michelle’s captor or her savior.
A performance like this has always seemed to be right at Goodman’s fingertips, though he’s never been as captivating in bigger films like “Argo” or “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” as he is in “10 Cloverfield Lane.” Director Dan Trachtenberg’s choice to use extreme tight shots, closing viewers into confined spaces, helps make Goodman’s domineering size and powerful performance all the more intense.
While “10 Cloverfield Lane” is primarily a two-handed film between Winstead and Goodman, John Gallagher Jr. offers a compelling supporting performance as fellow captive Emmet and Oscar nominee Bradley Cooper has a small, voice-over cameo as Michelle’s boyfriend.
The film only falters in its final moments, when it largely abandons the visual and narrative structure Trachtenberg has created for a poorly sequenced, generic ending more befitting a second-rate horror movie. The insistence on tying this “spiritual sequel” back to its predecessor in name alone totally changes the entire tenor of the film, and not for the better.
Visually, Trachtenberg creates a dynamic environment for Goodman and Winstead to play in, keeping the pressure on from moment to moment thanks to gripping close-up shots and expertly lit spaces. The film’s cinematic homage to “Die Hard” with Winstead crawling through air vents like Bruce Willis was an especially welcome touch.
“10 Cloverfield Lane” ultimately suffers from being 10 minutes too long, with the claustrophobia-inducing film on track to be one of the year’s best films only to shoot itself in the foot at the very last second.
Though almost nothing like its cinematic relative “Cloverfield,” “10 Cloverfield Lane” is worth a trip to theaters if for no other reason to experience Winstead and Goodman verbally duke it out in close quarters.